Chapter 8: Three Become Five

Enter Pax:

"Hey, Pax?" Merlin shook my shoulder gently, waking me up.

"Hm?" I slowly blinked awake, stretching my arms. "Ah… sorry, I must have dozed off there. What time is it?"

"Breakfast." Merlin offered a cup of coffee.

"Thanks, but I don't drink coffee," I declined, standing up and stretching. "Too bitter for my taste."

"Not if you drown it in sugar and flavoring," Merlin stated as he took a sip out of the cup. "But to each their own, I suppose."

"Yeah… hey, is Peach alright?" I asked as Merlin led me to another room in his house.

"Why don't you ask her yourself?" Merlin offered as he pushed a door open, revealing a Kitchen. A large table sat in the center, full of food, and sitting around the table eating were Goombella, Mario, Peach and the Koopa. Tippi was resting on the window sill nearby, facing the table.

"Look who finally decided to join us!" Goombella turned her head to me. "Morning, sleepyhead."

"Morning," I waved, taking an empty seat and pulling a plate of waffles closer. I turned to Peach and the Koopa. "You two okay?"

"Yes, thank you," Peach nodded. Mario was sitting next to her, looking absolutely relieved that she was safe.

"Better than I thought I would," the Koopa laughed nervously, leaning his head against his hand. "I feel like I just woke up from a horrible Nightmare."

"Oh, let me introduce my friend," Peach said, putting a gloved hand on the Koopa's shoulder. "This is Karl. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be here right now."

"Oh, y-you're giving me too much credit," Karl said nervously. "Really, if it weren't for Anderson, we'd BOTH be toast."

"So… wait," I held out my hands. "If you don't mind me asking, what DID happen to you?"

Peach and Karl looked at each other, then back to us.

"Well…" Karl started, pressing his hands together. "It started when this man approached Bowser…"

"…so I dragged him through the Portal with me," Peach finished. Merlin was sitting at the table with us, having joined partway through the tale, and Nozan was leaning against a wall, taking notes. "The Darkness pressed down on me, and I just passed out. When I finally came too, we were in this house, and Merlin here explained the situation to us."

"Wow," I blinked. "Karl, I'm… well, sorry about-"

"I'm fine," Karl interrupted, holding up a hand to stop me. "Really, just… I'm fine."

"Well… alright," I nodded. "At the very least, we know WHY the Pure Hearts are so important."

"Without them, the Void would rend our Souls apart," Goombella continued.

"…would you repeat the description of the man?"

This was the first time Tippi had spoken in a while. We all turned our heads to her.

"Uh… kind of a dark purple skin," described Karl. "Yellow eyes. White top hat and matching cloak."

"I thought it was a suit?" Peach asked.

"Both, maybe?" Karl shrugged. "Nothing else in that world made any sense, why should his clothes?"

"Interesting leap of logic," Goombella noted as Tippi withdrew herself from the room. Merlin's eyes followed her out, concern etched on his brow.

"Excuse me," he said politely, standing up. "Don't worry about the dishes, I'll take them up later."

He quickly left the room after Tippi.

"Um… I'm sorry, but who was the butterfly?" Peach asked.

"Her name's Tippi," I said, watching the door in concern. "She's a Pixl that's supposed to act as our guide through the Worlds, but… she's been kind of reclusive ever since we entered the Dreamer Ruins. Did what I say really affect her THAT much?"

"I don't think it's that," Goombella said reassuringly.

"Then what?" I asked.

"I'm not her, I really couldn't say," Goombella answered. "I have some thoughts, but only she could really tell us what's wrong."

"…I'm going to go talk to her," I said, standing up. "You guys better get ready to head over to the next World."

"Uh, Pax-" started Goombella, but I was already out of the room.

"Right," she sighed, standing up. "Come on Mario. Nozan, you don't mind cleaning up, do you?"

"Wait, what?" Nozan looked up from his notes.

"Taking that as a yes!" Goombella said quickly, leaving the kitchen with Mario.

"Uh… why don't we help them prepare?" Karl asked, looking at the mess we left on the table.

"Now wait a minute-" started Nozan.

"Great idea, let's!" Peach said as she stood, and the two of them quickly left the room, leaving Nozan alone with the huge mess.

"…" Nozan sighed, putting his notes away as he started gathering dishes.

Enter Tippi:

Merlin knocked at the open door of the room I was hiding in.

"Tippi?" he asked, stepping in. I really didn't want to see anyone, but… well, it was Merlin. I couldn't just ignore him.

"I'm here," I said, flying up to his face. He looked at me with concern.

"You're not acting like yourself," he said, offering a hand for me to rest on. "Is everything okay?"

"I'm… I'm sorry, Merlin," I said, landing on his index finger and flapping my wings slowly. "I won't let this get in the way of my performance on the mission."

"I didn't ask about that," Merlin said stubbornly. "I asked if you were okay."

"…" I looked down, not wanting to speak the strange thoughts that plagued my mind.

"Tippi, you're like a daughter to me," Merlin said gently. "You know that, right? You can tell me anything."

"I know, Merlin," I sighed. I tried to straighten my jumbled and confused thoughts: Who was the Lord of Nightmares? Why did he sound so… familiar? I could practically close my eyes and see him, yet I swear I never saw him before in my life… or did I?

"You… said you found my essence floating through the Dream World?" I asked. Merlin nodded.

"I remember that day well…" he closed his eyes, reminiscing in the past. "I was examining the passing Dreams from my house when I found your essence. I took you in and used my magic to build your Soul into a Pixl."

"But… I wasn't a Soul before," I said. "I was just… essence. You build my Soul, you made-"

"I did not make you into who you are," Merlin interrupted. "YOU made you who you are. You are your own person, Tippi."

"But I couldn't form even a coherent thought before you turned me into a Pixl," I retorted. "So I wouldn't have any memories from that time… would I?"

"I couldn't tell you," Merlin said apologetically. "I have no idea who or what you might have been before you became an essence, if you even were something before."

"I know…" I sighed, flying off his hand. "I never should have said anything in the first place."

I started to fly away, but Merlin stopped me by placing his hand in my path.

"Are you remembering things?" he asked.

"I… I don't know," I said, slowly turning back to him. He put his hand down, keeping his concerned eyes on me.

"Talk to me like I'm a child," he said. "Explain as best as you can."

I thought for a minute, looking down at the floor. "It's like… have you ever had a Dream you couldn't quite remember when you woke up? It seemed clear as day while you're asleep, and you remember you dreamt of SOMETHING, but you just can't remember any details."

"I know the feeling you're talking about," Merlin nodded, waiting for me to continue.

"I just… I feel like that while I'm awake," I said. "I… I keep zoning out. Things are playing in my head, but I don't know what it is that I'm thinking."

A terrifying thought occurred to me as I shook in the air. "Am… am I breaking down? Am I too unstable, and these are signs that I'm falling apart?!"

"Tippi, please, take a moment to breathe," Merlin said calmly. "Now… think for a moment. If you were falling apart, wouldn't it make more sense you'd be LOSING memories, rather than gaining them?"

I took a few deep breaths, contemplating what Merlin said. "Well… I suppose, but… you never know…"

"I understand," Merlin said softly. "I get that you're concerned. I HATE to see you like this. I want to do anything I can to make you feel better, but I can't give you the knowledge you seek. However… I've been having Nozan work on something since you told me your desire to go on this quest."

As he said this, he was digging through his pockets. He eventually pulled out a blue rectangular device, about an inch thick and long enough to fit easily in his palm.

"What is it?" I asked. Merlin flipped the device open, revealing a screen inside over a few buttons and dials.

"It's a device for communication," Merlin explained. "It's designed to synch up with the computer we use to observe Pax, so even if you're stuck in a world for long periods of time, you can always talk to me if you need anything."

"Um…" I blinked at the gift Merlin was offering. "It's a… sweet thought, but… I can't exactly hold it."

"I know," Merlin nodded. "But I have a feeling somebody will be willing to hold onto this for you. Which reminds me…"

He turned and waved a hand. The door closed, and a moment later, the Dream Keeper opened the door from the other side, stepping in.

"Geeze, this place is a maze…" he said as he stepped in. "It doesn't look this big on the outsi-oh, I'm sorry! You guys are talking, I'll just-"

"No, come in," Merlin said, motioning the Dream Keeper in. "I wanted to ask you a favor."

"Oh, of course!" the Dream Keeper nodded, closing the door behind him as he stepped further in. "What do you need?"

Merlin handed over the device. "If Tippi asks, let her use this. No questions asked."

The Dream Keeper blinked, taking the object in his hand. "Uh… okay?"

He shrugged and slid the device in his front pocket. Frankly, I was baffled at how readily he accepted this without so much as a single question.

"Anyway, do you mind if I take a minute to talk to Tippi?" the Dream Keeper asked.

"Not at all," Merlin said, walking to the door. "When you're done, just use the door to leave the front of my house. Your friends are waiting for you there."

"Wait, what?" the Dream Keeper asked. "But that door leads to some kind of massive maze."

"It's an enchantment I put on my house," Merlin said, his hand on the knob. "I can change what doors connect to which rooms at will. Observe."

He opened the door, revealing a library. He closed the door and opened it again, revealing a bathroom.

"That is SO cool!" the Dream Keeper said.

"I know," Merlin nodded as he closed the door again, opening it to reveal his personal study. "I'll leave you two be."

He walked through the door and closed it, leaving me alone with the Dream Keeper.

"Uh… Tippi-" the Dream Keeper started.

"Please," I interrupted. "I'd rather not talk."

"You don't have to," he shook his head. "Just listen. I'm… REALLY sorry for what I said back in the ruins. I didn't mean to upset you so badly."

"Oh… right, that," I said, remembering his constant stream of questions. It bothered me at the time, but frankly, I had more important things on my mind. "It's fine."

"You sure?" the Dream Keeper asked.

"Positive, now would you kindly open the door and let us regroup so we can reach the next Keyhole?" I asked.

"Right, of course," he nodded, opening the door to reveal Flipside on the other side. "I'm glad we got that out of the way!"

Saying nothing, I flew through the door outside, the Dream Keeper following behind.

Enter Pax:

It didn't take us long to meet up with everybody else. Goombella and Mario were standing just outside the store, talking with Peach and Karl.

"Hey, guys!" I waved as we approached. "We cleared the air, everything's cool now. Right Tippi?"

"Uh… right, what he said," Tippi said.

"So if everybody's ready, let's take off!" I said, summoning the Sword of Dreams.

"Uh… Pax?" Goombella spoke up. "Peach and Karl would like to say something."

"Hm?" I turned my head to Peach as she stepped forward, Karl directly behind her.

"We want to go with you," Peach said. "We want to help stop the Void."

I blinked. "Uh… but, you-"

"Just recovered, they feel fine," Goombella interrupted. She had apparently had this exact same argument.

"Besides," Peach continued, "the Void is my fault anyway. Mine and Bowser's… I want to help put a stop to what I started."

"Hey now, you were kind of brainwashed," I reminded her. "I don't think anybody would hold it against you."

"That doesn't excuse anything," Peach shook her head. "I'm going with you, and that's FINAL."

"I left the major argument to you, as the charismatic leader of our group," Goombella bowed to me.

"Thanks, you're a true friend," I said sarcastically before turning back to Peach. "Listen, I know your heart's in the right place, but… well, frankly, I think… at best, you'd just be a hindrance."

Peach raised an eyebrow, crossing her arms. "Oh?"

"I mean…" I rubbed the back of my head. "Tippi has the ability to discern information from anything she looks at. I have a magic sword and the ability to trade places with a Nightmare. Goombella's hyper-intelligent and can hold her own in a fight. Mario's… well, MARIO. I just don't see how well you'd be able to hold up in a tense fighting situation."

About five seconds later, I was sprawled out on the ground. Peach had a foot on my back and her parasol in front of my head.

"I can hold my own in basic hand-to-hand combat, thank you very much," Peach huffed. "Spend enough time getting kidnapped and learning how the enemy fights, you pick up a few of those fighting skills yourself."

"Okay… I believe you…" I groaned. "Please let me up."

"I see why you love her," Goombella said to Mario as Peach helped me back to my feet. He simply blushed and looked the other way, playing with his mustache.

"And…" Karl cleared his throat. "I want to go too… I promised someone I'd take care of Peach. S-so if you're not sure she can hold her own… not that I'm saying she can't! I think she really can! B-but just in case, I mean! Not that she'd need-"

"Stop," I held up a hand. "Breathe."

Karl took a few deep breaths. "…I want to come along, too."

"Well I don't see why not," I shrugged.

"So you'd let him come along without a second thought, but raise a question about me?" Peach countered.

"…there's no possible way I can answer that without getting hurt, is there?" I gulped.

"Good boy," Peach pat my head. "Now, don't we have some Worlds to save?"

"Okay, I am REALLY going to like you," Goombella smirked.

"Of course you will…" I sighed, standing up straight and holding out the sword. "Got the stuff?"

"Right here," Goombella nodded to Mario, who was holding a bag of items.

"Everyone ready?" I prepped the Sword of Dreams.

"Whenever you are," Peach nodded. I stepped forward and swung the sword down, focusing the energy of the Pure Heart though the blade. A hole ripped open in the air before us, and together, we all walked through into the next World.